The only difference between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Tampa Bay Lightning during this past off-season is that the Lightning has not declared bankruptcy, yet. Owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules have been publicly fighting and have even been in meetings with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about the financial situation of the Bolts.
The ownership group still owes money to the estate of former owner William Davidson, who helped the duo with some financing when the group purchased the team, from him, in February of 2008. The Davidson family wants the money repaid that OK Hockey LLC owes the estate and now Barrie and Koules have been given a period of time to buy each other out of the partnership.
The financial uncertainty has led to rumours about the future of All-Star forwards Lecavalier and St. Louis. Lecavalier was the center of trade rumours to the Montreal Canadiens for most of last season.
The Bolts have gone from the Stanley Cup champions in 2004 to finishing in 30th overall in 2008 and they started the rebuilding process by drafting Steven Stamkos, first overall in the 2008 Entry Draft. Last season they improved but marginally finishing 29th in the NHL and after John Tavares was drafted by the New York Islanders, the Lightning took Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, second overall.
Many scouts were spilt on who was the No.1 prospect going into the 2009 Entry Draft, many believe the Lightning received the best player in the draft.
General Manager Brian Lawton went out during the off-season and signed experience, as well as some more offensive talent. Lawton signed Alex Tanguay, Todd Fedoruk and Stephane Veilleux to the forward ranks. In addition to the drafting of Hedman, Lawton acquired Mattias Ohlund, Matt Walker, David Hale and Kurtis Foster. To back-up goaltender Mike Smith, Lawton looked to former Philadelphia Flyer Antero Nittymaki.
Lawton and the fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning hope that the off-ice distractions can remain right there, off the ice. With the new talent, can the Lightning make significant improvement on the past two disappointing seasons?
Let’s take a look at what moves G.M. Brian Lawton was able to make and see which players will be a part of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009-10.
Some of the significant additions that the Lightning has made during the off-season are as follows: Alex Tanguay (Montreal), Mattias Ohlund (Vancouver), Matt Walker (Chicago), Todd Fedoruk (Phoenix), Stephane Veilleux (Minnesota), David Hale (Phoenix), Antero Nittymaki (Philadelphia) and Kurtis Foster (Minnesota).
Some of the significant roster deletions that have moved on from Tampa Bay are as follows: They are David Koci (Colorado), Richard Petoit (Chicago), Brandon Segal (Los Angeles), Noah Welch (Atlanta), Cory Murphy (New Jersey), Jason Ward (Philadelphia), Radim Vrbata (Phoenix), Wade Brookbank (Pittsburgh), Josef Melichar (HC Czech Budejovice) and Vinny Prospal (Contract Buy-Out).
There are seven former Lightning Players that have yet to sign deals with another franchise. They are Andreas Holmqvist, Justin Keller, Marek Malik, Mike McKenna, Janne Niskala and Matt Pettinger.
The Projected 2009—10 Tampa Bay Lightning roster
The Lightning currently have 20 players under one-way contracts; 11 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goaltenders. The three players that are most likely to fill out the roster, that are on two-way contracts are as follows. It would most likely be two forwards and a defenseman. These players are;
- Steven Stamkos—The 19 year-old native of Markham, Ontario was the Lightning` first round pick (First Overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. After spending two seasons playing in the OHL, with the Sarnia Sting. Stamkos joined the Lightning last season and appeared in 79 games. He scored 23 goals and tallied 23 assists for 46 points.
- Steve Downie—The 22 year-old native of Newmarket, Ontario was the Flyers` first round pick (29th Overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired by the Lightning on November 7 with a draft pick and Steve Eminger for Mathieu Carle and a draft pick. During his NHL career, with the Flyers and the Lightning, Downie has appeared in 61 games, scoring nine goals and adding nine assists for 18 points.
- Victor Hedman—The 18 year-old native of Ornskolodsvik, Sweden was the Lightning`s first round pick (Second Overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. This will be Hedman’s first North American season playing professional hockey.
With these 23 players, the Lightning’ Salary Cap would sit at $52.1 million. If you take the bonuses off of the calculation, it would only give the Lightning approximately $8.9 million in cap space.
Now let’s take a look at the top prospects that will be looking to make an impression on G.M. Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet.
An 18 year-old native of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Right Wingers was a Lightning’s first round pick (29th Overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Carter Ashton is the son of former NHL player Brent Ashton. The elder Ashton spent 14 seasons in the NHL with eight different franchises. Young Carter has spent time the last three seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the WHL.
According to NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire,
"Carter is a solid prototypical power forward; he knows the game and really is astute at the power-play and penalty kill, offensive and defensive parts of his game. He has been complimented for being hockey smart, perhaps the savvy coming from his dad who played 998 games in the NHL."
According to Lethbridge Hurricanes head coach Michael Dyck,
“He is a power forward, for a big guy he skates well, he’s strong, he’s got a pretty good skill set, he shoots the puck pretty well and he goes to the net hard. I think that is essentially why he’s had success this year.”
An 18 year-old native of Martin, Slovakia. The Right Winger was the Lightning’s second round pick (52nd Overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Panik has spent the last two seasons in the Czech Republic playing for Trinec Ocelari HC. Panik will spend this season playing with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL.
A 23 year-old native of East Greenbush, New York. The defenseman was the Bruins’ first round pick (22nd Overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Lashoff was acquired at the last year’s Trade Deadline with Martins Karsums from Boston for Mark Recchi and a draft pick. He has split the last four seasons between the NHL and the AHL. He has appeared in 58 games, scoring one goal and 14 assists.
A 20 year-old native of Airdrie, Alberta. The centerman was the Lightning’s second round pick (47th Overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Tyrell has spent the last four seasons with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. He has signed his first entry level contract and will start the season playing in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals.
A 20 year-old native of Watson, Saskatchewan. The goaltender was the Lightning’s fifth round pick (122nd Overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Tokarski has spent the last three seasons with the Spokane Chiefs and was a member of the 2008 Memorial Cup Champions. He also was part of Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa.
Recap of 2008-09
Lightning finished the season in fifth place in the Southeast Division and finished 14th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 24-40-18, good for 66 points.
The Lightning had four players that broke the 20-goal plateau and they had six players in total that finished with double digit goals. Last season, the Lightning was led by Martin St. Louis (30 goals. 50 assists and 80 points) and Vincent Lecavalier (29 goals).
The Lightning` offense was 25th in the NHL with 207 goals for and defensively, the Lightning were 27th in the NHL giving up 269 goals.
The Lightning` powerplay was 19th in the NHL last season, clicking at 17.8 percent and they were 26th in killing penalties (78.0 percent).
Outlook for 2009-10
Offensively, the Lightning has a legitimate playmaker to compliment the talents of St. Louis and Lecavalier. Alex Tanguay has 387 career assists and helped the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in 2001. He had a shoulder injury last season that limited Tanguay to only 50 games but has played with such a dynamic since leaving the Avalanche.
The power play will also be much improved this season. Along with the addition of Tanguay, the Lightning signed defenseman Kurtis Foster from the Minnesota Wild. Foster suffered a near career ending injury on March 19, 2008. He was checked heavily from behind on an icing play against the San Jose Sharks and suffered a broken left femur. He didn’t play again until March 7 2009 ,almost one year after sustaining the injury.
Foster has a rocket for a slap shot from the point and during his career; he has scored nine of his 21 career goals on the power play.
The penalty killing unit should also be improved with the acquisition of Mathias Ohlund. Last season Ohlund averaged over two minutes a game, killing penalties with the Vancouver Canucks.
The main question still surrounding the Lightning organization is in goal. The Bolts have not had a NHL calibre No.1 goaltender since 2004. Can Mike Smith remain healthy and can Smith take his game to the next level that the Lightning will require to back into the playoff hunt?
I foresee a third place finish in the Southeast Division and I think they will finish 12th in the Eastern Conference.
On Sept 18th, I will be reviewing Toronto Maple Leafs as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs. Look for my four-part article on how I would improve the NHL and my other previously published articles on bleacherreport.com.